Cameron Coward

Chiptune is a genre of electronic music that is produced using vintage sound chips. Those chips were often used in early computers and video game consoles, particularly in the 8-bit era. Unlike modern hardware, early sound chips couldn’t produce smooth analog waveforms. Instead, they could only make basic waveforms, such as square waves. That resulted in a uniquely digital sound that we now associate with retro video games. Many chiptune musicians use vintage consoles to produce their songs, but you can follow TheSpodShed’s tutorial to do so with an Arduino.

Technically speaking, you can make chiptune music on your computer, or even your cell phone. Your modern hardware is perfectly capable of producing the kinds of waveforms we associate with chiptunes. But that’s generally considered “cheating,” and it’s a lot more satisfying and “pure” to use real vintage sound chips. In this case, TheSpodShed is demonstrating how to use an AY-3-8910 programmable sound generator chip. That chip was used in many early arcade games, and provides a completely authentic sound.

But that chips is just for generating sounds, and you’ll need a way to control it. That’s done with an 5V, 16MHz Arduino Pro Micro. The only other hardware you’ll need is an audio output jack and a few discrete components. The Arduino code provided by TheSpodShed makes the Arduino appear as a MIDI device when you connect it to your computer. All you have to do is use whatever music production software you prefer to send notes to the Arduino, which will then be played through the AY-3–8910 sound chip. That makes this a very affordable and easy way to start making chiptune music on real hardware.

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